I paid for tickets on the wrong airline


Question: I planned an once-in-a-lifetime trip for my two children and me to South Africa a few months ago. I used a travel agency to book my airline tickets.

My travel agent told me the flight was made with American Airlines. As the date got closer, I called American and was told the booking was there but hadn’t been paid. I was very upset and immediately confirmed and paid for the reservation.

At the time I was dealing with a family illness, which made the situation more difficult.

When I called my travel agent, I found out they had changed the flight arrangements to British Airways. I called American Airlines less than 24 hours later to cancel the reservation I had made. The person on the phone did cancel my reservation and I was told my children’s reservation, which was separate from mine, was canceled as well. I was charged $2,187 for each of my children’s tickets. The tickets were never used.

I’d like American to either refund the tickets or transfer them to me or to my husband. It is unreasonable that the tickets are not being refunded or at least transferable to me and my husband. American will only allow my children to use the flight credits after adding a $250 change fee. Can you help? — Laurie Spear, Boca Raton, Fla.

Answer: Whoa, talk about getting your wires crossed! It sounds as if there was a completely preventable breakdown in communication between you and your travel agent.

Your agent should have told you which airline you were flying to South Africa on. But you should have contacted the agency before confirming the flight with your airline. The reason you deal with a trusted intermediary to book your airline tickets is that they provide an extra service. An agent can confirm your flights, make a change to your reservation, answer any questions about your itinerary and fix a flight if there’s a problem.

Your agent would have been on the hook to buy you a new ticket if somehow American Airlines wasn’t paid for the ticket on time.

Stepping in and “fixing” it without first consulting with your agent made the problem worse. Given the difficult situation you were in at the time, I can’t blame you for just paying for the ticket.

But the real problem was American Airlines. You asked it to cancel all of your tickets, but it only processed one itinerary. There are ways of verifying a cancellation. Companies will often offer a cancellation number or some other verification that the tickets have been refunded, such as an email. When you didn’t get a confirmation from American, you should have called back.

Actually, you should have asked your agent to handle the cancellation. That’s what you’re paying them for, after all.

Most airlines will refund a ticket if you call within 24 hours to cancel, but after that, they’ll offer a credit minus a change fee, which can only be used by the ticketed passenger.

Given your personal circumstances and the problems with your travel agency, I thought American should take another look at your case. It did and it decided to make an exception to its policy. It issued new flight vouchers that could be used by anyone and are valid for a year from the date of their issue. You’ll still have to pay the cancellation fee, but you’ll no longer have to use the tickets for your children.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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